A friend of mine suggested doing the Whole 30 diet later this spring, and I jumped in, ready to use up a bunch of frozen meat and veggies in February. That gives us a whole month to make some sugar-free staples! Bacon is allowed, but sugar is not, and most commercial bacon has some form of sugar in the cure. Specialty bacon is expensive. We decided to make our own cottage bacon, which takes less than two weeks.
The curators of the Whole 30 website are well aware that nitrites, used in preserving exciting and delicious meats, are widely found in vegetables. This means sodium nitrite is fine to use, and this is what gives bacon and ham the signature pink color and ‘cured’ flavor. This is what lets us take a random cut of pork like shoulder and turn it into cottage bacon!
My Dad, who retired from owning and operating a BBQ restaurant, had just finished making a batch of cottage bacon and sent photos and reviews the day before. I’ll put in some of his techniques below.
What is cottage bacon? It is simply the cured pork shoulder, just like Canadian bacon is cured pork loin and traditional American bacon is cured pork belly. The meat is cured with a nitrite salt rub, then smoked to an internal temperature of 160 over several hours. These bacons are technically ready to eat, (and this Christmas I ate MANY non-fried slices of my father-in-law’s homemade maple-syrup Canadian bacon) but who would miss out on the smell of bacon filling the air for breakfast?
My friend Kara, who also had a hand in the Rhubarb Wine, brought over a 3 1/2 lb pork shoulder on January 21st. (She also brought ingredients for sambal, a fermented pepper salsa, so my husband could make her a batch. It is also Whole 30 compliant.) We sliced the shoulder into two flat halves.
Why is sugar a common ingredient in bacon? Well, sugar is a preservative, which is why many jams and jellies have SUCH a high amount. Also, like salt, sugar acts as an osmotic agent, pulling water out of the meat. In bacon that means less salt can be used to cure the meat, and that means a less salty, slightly sweet product. With sugar out as an ingredient, we had to switch to a style of bacon more like pancetta. This means our bacon is going to be a little salty, but it should be great for adding flavor to recipes!
The most important step in making any kind of cured meat is calculating the amount of nitrite salt based on the weight of the meat. You will need 0.25% nitrite salt (6.25% nitrite salt, or pink salt) to cure the meat.
- Weigh your meat. Slab #1 weighed 1 7/8 pounds.
- Convert pounds to grams. 1.875 lbs = 850 grams.
- Multiply 850 g by 0.0025 to get the amount of pink salt in grams. We need 2.125 g of pink salt for this slab.
I like to apply my pink salt first, VERY EVENLY, to the surface of the meat and rub it in. My Dad added it to a mustard base and applied it evenly to the meat, and he had great results. He didn’t get a mustard flavor in the bacon though. I wanted a little more flavor to come through, so I took a few things from the pancetta recipe.
- Finely grind spices of your choice. We used black pepper, garlic, thyme, rosemary, bay leaves, and a little dried mustard. This part is not science! We had about a tablespoon of the spice mix for each slab.
- Take your meat weight again (850 grams) and calculate 3% weight for the salt. For slab #1 this means 850 g * 0.03 = 25.5 grams of regular salt. This is the amount of salt (I used kosher salt) that we will apply to the meat to pull out moisture and further ‘cure’ it.
- Mix together the kosher salt and spices, and rub it all over the meat.
- Place the meat in a nonreactive container (a gallon ziplock bag works great) and give them to your friend Kara.
- Place meat in the fridge. Turn the meat each day, draining off any liquid that has appeared.
- After 7-10 days (we are doing 6 day because we have smaller slabs), take the meat out and rinse all the cure off in water. Since we are doing a straight salt cure, we will also soak the slabs in water for up to 30 minutes. This will remove some of the salt.
- Let the slabs sit overnight in the fridge.
- Smoke slabs over low heat until they reach an internal temperature of 160 F. Do not cheat with liquid smoke or your Dad will not speak to you again. Don’t even own liquid smoke, just to be safe.
At this point your bacon is ready to eat! Slice thin and fry it up or freeze it! We’ll be updating with photos and taste test results!